Australian dollar unworried by political developments

The USD remains firm but is struggling to make further headway against major crosses. Some improvement in risk appetite, firmer equity markets and slightly lower yields today may limit the ability of the USD to extend its gains in the near term (as the USD usually suffers when risk appetite improves and US yields drop) although we expect any setback to prove temporary, with US Treasury bond yields set to continue to move higher over the coming weeks, albeit at a more gradual pace.

USD/JPY’s rebound has stalled over recent days despite the fact that US bond yields have continue to rise relative to Japanese JGB yields. My analysis of JPY performance during the last thee periods of sharply higher US yields shows that the JPY weakened versus USD in the first two periods and is on the verge of doing so in the third period (since early May).

Additionally the JPY has maintained a strongly negative correlation with US yields over the past 12 months. All of this suggests that the JPY will resume a weaker trend over coming weeks although markets may wait until the Japanese Upper House elections on July 21 and subsequent news of further reforms before pushing the JPY much weaker.

It if wasn’t enough that the AUD was suffering from higher US yields and China concerns, the announcement of a leadership election for the Labor leadership will have done little to bolster confidence in the currency. That said, politics is not an important driver of the AUD and the currency managed to eek out some gains despite Prime Minister Gillard’s loss in the contest.

Some easing in funding tensions among China’s banks has helped the AUD, with the currency showing encouraging signs of stabilization over recent days. However, its limited progress is still a long way from becoming a sustained rally. AUD/USD has a very negative correlation with 10 year US Treasury yields over the past 3 months, and continues to remain susceptible to further US yield increases until the market finally becomes accustomed the prospects of Fed tapering.

Equity outflows from Asia accelerate

A slate of better than expected US data releases including May durable goods orders, new home sales and June consumer confidence data (the latter two releases reaching their highest levels since 2008) helped to boost risk appetite, spurring equity markets higher and the VIX ‘fear gauge’ lower.

Firmer US data came alongside soothing comments from China’s central bank PBoC, about liquidity conditions in the banking sector, with an official noting that it will keep money market rates at “reasonable levels”. The European Central Bank’s Draghi added to the fray by noting that Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) was even more essential now, highlighting the ongoing backstop provided by potential ECB peripheral bond purchases.

Meanwhile the positive US data releases helped to push Treasury yields higher, with the 10 year yield breaching 2.6%. Commodities remained under pressure, with higher yields in particular weighing on gold prices.

The calendar is rather light today and will provide little market direction, with an Ecofin meeting in Europe, UK spending review and US Q1 GDP revision in tap. Expect some positive follow through from the firmer tone to European and US equities overnight which will support risk assets including EM currencies although concerns about tapering are from over.

The rout in equity markets over recent weeks has had a devastating impact on equity flows to Asia. The outflow of equity portfolio capital from Asia accelerated sharply over June. Month to data Asia has recorded $10.2 billion in outflows, a massive move out of the region given that total inflows year to data have now dropped to $8.7 billion. One more month at this pace of outflows would see Asia registering net outflows for the year.

Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan have been hit the most over June but no country has recorded net equity inflows. Year to date India has registered the strongest equity inflows of $14.7bn while South Korea has registered the biggest outflows of $7.3bn.

“Feral hogs” beware

Bond and equity selling has been sustained as worries both about Federal Reserve tapering and liquidity in China’s banking sector continues to roil markets. Fed comments overnight did little to soothe market angst, with the Fed’s Fisher and Kocherlakota both revealing little concern about the market reaction to prospects of Fed tapering. However, both Fed officials were keen to point out that policy will remain accommodative even after the end of quantitative easing which helped to allay some of the pain on markets in overnight trading.

Reinforcing market volatility is the approach of month and quarter end. Several other Fed speakers will be on tap over coming days while 2, 5 and 7 year Treasury auctions will also be under scrutiny but ahead of the speeches and auctions markets will look to today’s US data releases including May durable goods orders, June consumer confidence and May new home sales for further direction.

EUR/USD failed to get much of lift from the rise in the German IFO business confidence survey in June and looks set to extend declines over coming sessions. Despite its drop from its high around 1.3420 EUR/USD has not been particularly sensitive to higher US yields over recent weeks but this may be changing. As revealed in the latest CFTC IMM report net speculative positioning in EUR/USD became positive for the first time in four months.

Now that the room for EUR short covering has disappeared EUR’s sensitivity to yield is likely to grow. The fact that the 10 year US Treasury yield differential with bunds has widened sharply will be difficult for EUR/USD to ignore, with attendant negative consequences for the currency. The lack of key Eurozone data releases over coming days will leave the EUR/USD increasingly at the mercy of US yield movements.

Another currency having to deal with a relatively thin data slate is GBP. Only the government’s Spending Review, Bank of England Financial Stability Report and second estimate of Q1 GDP are scheduled for release this week but none of these are likely to prove to be market movers. Having been hit by a firmer USD, GBP/USD has fallen well off its recent highs around 1.5752. On the crosses GBP looks a little healthier but is notably failing to make any headway against the EUR.

While the USD has rallied on higher US yields markets are not looking for a similar policy moves in the UK, especially given that some BoE MPC members are still inclined to increase asset purchases. Indeed, the recent rise in UK gilt yields may embolden the doves on the MPC. Although net speculative short GBP positions have not fully evaporated, the room for GBP upside is now very limited, with a firm USD in general set to continue to push GBP lower.

US dollar running rampant

A calmer tone looks like it will settle over markets today after recent sharp volatility. However, little relief to the pain inflicted on markets from tapering fears is likely this week. Weaker growth and funding concerns in China added another layer of uncertainty to the market psyche although comments from China’s central bank the PBoC about “fine tuning” may help to allay fears of a wider credit crunch.

Meanwhile across the pond Fed officials are probably quite frustrated by the market reaction to last week’s FOMC statement. There will be plenty of Fed speakers on tap this week to provide clarification, with markets looking for some soothing comments. Given the varying and diverse views among Fed officials such hopes may be dashed.

Data releases both in the US and Europe will be encouraging in terms of recovery expectations but will do little to ease the angst over tapering. In the US durable goods orders and new homes sales will record gains in May while June consumer sentiment indices will remain at relatively high levels.

In Europe, aside from the European council meeting this week the German IFO business confidence survey today and economic sentiment gauges later in the week are set to rise in June. In Japan the main CPI inflation gauge will stabilize in May although reaching the 2% inflation targets remains as difficult as ever while industrial production is set to decline in May due to still fragile foreign demand.

Most asset markets will continue to track bonds, with equities, and commodities remaining under pressure and the USD supported by higher US yields. Notably 10 year Treasury yields spiked to over 2.5%, a sharp increase over the week. Consequently the USD’s firm tone was expressed across a broad swathe of currencies, with Scandinavian, Latam and commodity currencies among the worst performers.

Emerging market and commodity currencies are set to suffer from continued capital outflows while the USD runs rampant. However, many currencies look oversold and over the near term some stabilisation is likely as they benefit from a slightly better risk tone at the turn of the week. As indicated by the latest CTFC IMM data, the USD long positioning has been cut back, suggesting scope for further gains. EUR positioning has turned net long for the first time in four months implying no further room for short covering.

Bracing for a world without steroids

The sell off of risk assets in the wake of the Fed’s surprisingly direct FOMC communication continues unabated. Hopes that Fed chief Bernanke would attempt to assuage market concerns about tapering have been blown apart and instead the reality of forthcoming tapering continues to bite leading to higher US yields, weaker stocks and commodities and a firmer USD. In fact the USD appears to have finally re-established its positive relationship with yields and risk aversion.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the fact that data out of China has disappointed while local money market rates had risen sharply this week. Separately Japan’s reform momentum appears to have stalled ahead of Upper House elections as Prime Minister Abe’s third arrow missed target.

In combination these factors mean that markets are bracing for the day that they no longer have steroid injections to keep them going. Instead fundamentals will become important to sustain gains in risk assets. Why should anyone be surprised? US growth is recovering and at some point tapering has to occur. Unfortunately risk assets were just not ready for this revelation.

Ongoing volatility and uncertainty is likely to persist over the coming weeks as markets transition to an environment of Fed tapering, but this will give way to a renewed improvement in risk appetite and lower volatility later in the year.

The USD index continued to rise overnight having corrected around a third of its losses since 22 May. Gains remain broad based with gains registered against major and emerging market currencies. US Treasury yield differentials with other countries continue to widen across the board leaving the USD in strong form (10 year Treasury yield has risen by close to 80 basis points since early May).

Going forward firmer US data, taken together with higher US yields, will continue to drive the USD higher against major currencies, while some improvement in risk appetite as investors become accustomed to the prospects of Fed tapering will allow emerging market currencies to recover some, but not all lost ground against the USD.

Many currencies have become highly sensitive to US yields, with the TRY, NZD and INR the most sensitive over the past three months although notably most Asian currencies are near the top in terms of sensitivities.

Against this background unsurprisingly Asia continues to register capital outflows. All Asian countries have registered capital outflows this month, with total equity outflows of $10.2 billion registered, led by South Korea and Taiwan. Obviously the bigger concern is for deficit countries including India and Indonesia, with their currencies remaining particularly vulnerable to capital outflows.

Recent market volatility has meant that the prospects of Japanese investors stepping up their outflows have diminished over the near term. The latest data released yesterday showed that Japanese investors repatriated capital for a fifth straight week.

It is only a matter of time before outflows pick up as risk appetite improves as US yields move higher. The US 10Y Treasury yield advantage has widened versus Japanese JGBs to around 153bp and I expect this to widen further to around 185bp by the end of 2013. This will be consistent with a renewed slide in the JPY versus USD.

It’s all about communication

Calm has settled over markets as anticipation builds ahead of tomorrow’s Fed FOMC outcome. Equity markets registered broad based gains globally while US yields rose and the USD stabilized. It’s worth reiterating that effective Fed communication is the key to ensure that this calm continues otherwise market volatility will quite easily return.

Yesterday’s mixed data releases did not offer much to the debate on Fed policy as the Empire manufacturing survey rose more than expected but disappointed on the detail, while home builders’ confidence jumped. May CPI inflation data will perhaps offer more clues today, with a benign reading likely to ensure that markets do not get carried away in expecting any major shift in Fed policy. In Europe, a likely decline in the German ZEW investor confidence survey in June will do little to boost confidence in recovery.

GBP/USD has rallied impressively over recent weeks although much of its gain has been spurred largely by USD weakness rather than inherent GBP strength. Nonetheless, UK data has looked somewhat more encouraging, a fact that has played some role in reinforcing GBP gains. Whether this continues will depend on a slate of data releases this week including retail sales on Thursday. CPI inflation data (today) and Bank of England MPC minutes (tomorrow).

On balance, I look for UK data to continue to paint an encouraging picture of recovery, which ought to provide further support for GBP. However, the risk / reward does not favor shorting the USD at present and I suggest playing further GBP upside versus EUR.

CHF has strengthened as risk aversion has flared up. While I remain bearish CHF over the medium term the near term outlook will be driven by risk gyrations (given the strong correlation between CHF and our risk barometer). Both EUR/CHF and USD/CHF have already fallen sharply having priced in higher risk aversion.

Obviously much in terms of risk appetite will depend on the Fed FOMC outcome tomorrow and I would suggest caution about shorting the CHF just yet. Additionally Swiss data in the form of May trade data and more importantly the SNB policy decision this week will be watched closely, especially given the threat by SNB Jordan of implementing negative interest rates. I don’t expect any shift in policy on Thursday, however, leaving USD/CHF firmly supported around 0.9130.

Since Fed Chairman Bernanke highlighted the prospects of Fed “tapering” during his testimony on May 22 commodity currencies have performed poorly. The notable exception has been the CAD which has eked out gains over recent weeks. Like GBP, the CAD has been helped by relatively positive data releases, which in turn have prompted growing expectations of policy rates hikes from the Bank of Canada. Market positioning in CAD remains relatively short, suggesting more scope for gains over coming weeks. Meanwhile, data this week including May CPI and April retail sales will be scrutinized for clues as to the next move from the BoC and in turn whether gains in CAD are justified.

Bernanke awaited, RBI stays on hold

Central banks are very much in the spotlight. Whether it’s poor communication or disappointment over the lack of fresh stimulus measures in Japan or opposition to the European Central Banks’ (ECB) OMT policy being debated in the German constitutional court there is much to focus on. Against the background of heightened volatility and elevated risk aversion the Fed FOMC meeting on Wednesday will garner even more attention than usual.

Although no change in policy settings is expected the ability of Fed Chairman Bernanke to communicate effectively the Fed’s strategy over ‘tapering’ will be crucial to determine whether market volatility persists or lessens. Ultimately markets are likely to successfully transition to a world of reduced Fed asset purchases but this may take a while. In the meantime market stress is set to remain elevated.

Aside from the Fed FOMC meeting US data releases are likely to continue to show encouraging signs of housing market recovery, with US May housing starts and April existing home set to reveal gains. Meanwhile, CPI inflation will remain benign in May while the June Empire manufacturing survey today will reveal a slight improvement.

In Europe, there will be attention on a Eurogroup meeting on Wednesday where banking union will be discussed while data releases include the June German ZEW investor confidence survey (slight drop likely) and the flash estimates of June purchasing managers’ indices. These are likely to look less negative although they are set to remain in contraction territory. In Japan, May trade data will likely show a widening in deficit as weaker external demand outweighs the impact of a weaker JPY.

In FX markets USD selling against major currencies is likely to slow. The 4.4% drop in the USD index from its highs in late May has been rapid but it has led to a major shift in positioning. Speculative USD long positions have been cut back significantly, while EUR positioning is almost back to flat after being extremely short in previous weeks. Similarly JPY short positions are beginning to be pared back. I suspect that the EUR in particular will struggle to make much more headway.

Weakness of the USD against major currencies has contrasted sharply with USD strength against emerging market currencies. The sell off in Asian currencies has been particularly sharp although there was some tentative recovery towards the end of last week. The INR followed by the most risk sensitive currencies including PHP and THB have suffered the most over recent weeks.

The INR’s vulnerability has been particular high due to its external funding requirements although it may show some tentative signs of recovery over coming days as its sell off has looked overdone. The Reserve Bank of India policy meeting today offered no help for the INR. Although it was a close call there was a significant minority looking for a rate cut to boost growth. The lack of action will weigh on the INR in the short term.

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